There are two ways to ensure that your live streams work without bottlenecks. You can either use a streaming software encoder or a streaming hardware encoder.
Right now, we will be focusing on hardware encoders.
Software encoders are best suited for beginners because they are easy to set up, cheaper, and mostly automatic.
Hardware encoders are for users who mean business. Twitch streamers use them to ensure uninterrupted hours of live streaming with minimum lags and glitches.
With this article, we will try and help you understand the ins and outs of hardware encoders.
But before we get to all that, make sure you read up on the following terms to fully understand the information in this article.
Streaming Encoder Hardware – Technical Terms
- IP(Internet Protocol)- IP and IP address are two different things. IP is a set of rules and protocols that facilitate data transfer over the internet. The IP address helps locate your device in the internet world for communications and data transfer.
- CDN(Content Delivery Network)- A CDN is a distribution network spread across the internet that delivers the content from one IP to another.
When a user clicks on a live stream, the CDN delivers the content from the originating IP to the viewer’s IP.
- Encoding- The word encode means converting raw data into code so computers can understand and process it.
Similarly, a streaming hardware encoder will capture and compress a live stream’s video and audio, so it can travel through the internet.
- Codecs- An encoder compresses live streaming content, and codecs are the methods/formats of compressing content. Audio, video, images, and text- all content requires different types of codecs.
For live streaming, there is a set of new-gen codecs. The most notable ones are MJPEG, H.264, HEVC, VP9, and AV1.
- Streaming Protocols- After codecs compress the data that is to be transferred, streaming protocols ensure transportation of content, using numerous CDNs. The various streaming protocols perform the task for different streaming needs.
- Bitrate- Bitrate is the rate at which your stream’s data bits are processed and transferred within a given time. A higher bitrate means better streaming. Along with encoder hardware, bitrate also depends on device hardware and the internet connection.
Different streaming platforms have different bitrate requirements, and that’s where the ‘auto bitrate’ feature of a streaming hardware encoder comes in handy.
What is a Streaming Hardware Encoder?
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, live streaming viewership doubled on major platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Periscope.
So streamers, along with maintaining content quality, had to ensure stable and high-quality streams. To do that, streamers looked to hardware encoders.
A streaming hardware encoder is an independent device that connects to your computer/laptop/streaming device and drastically improves your live stream’s video and audio quality.
These devices ensure that the viewers receive the live stream in the correct format at the best possible quality regardless of their location and device.
But, while ensuring quality, it’ll also leave its mark on your wallet. A decent hardware encoder will cost you around 300 bucks.
How does a Hardware Encoder Work?
Here’s what a hardware encoder does:
- Connects to a computer/streaming device using HDMI, SDI, or DVI.
- Captures the audio and video signal.
- Encode and convert into the correct format automatically.
- Transfer that file to every viewer over IP and CDN.
It might seem simple, but it is one of the most complex parts of live streaming, that’s why amateur streamers prefer software encoders.
Why use a Hardware Encoder?
You need a top-quality video encoder to stream on the best live streaming platforms, and a hardware encoder is your best bet, period.
Yes, a software encoder is cheaper, but it doesn’t come close to a hardware encoder in terms of performance.
Both software encoders and hardware encoders do a decent job at creating and maintaining high-quality streams, but hardware encoders are a tad better. One reason is the dedicated hardware, which allows hardware encoders to do the following.
- Higher Video Resolution
Hardware encoders can achieve as high a bitrate as 30,000 kbps. That means, with the right hardware, you can stream content in 4K or 8K and 60 fps or higher.
- Low CPU Usage
Because hardware encoders have their own boards and a dedicated GPU, the strain of your CPU decreases. On the other hand, while using a software encoder, that strain increases.
Newer software encoders are integrating this feature, but a hardware encoder is the better choice to multi-stream your content.
Software encoders will use up more CPU power whereas hardware encoders’ dedicated GPU can handle that without compromising the performance.
With a hardware encoder like Teradek VidiU, you can simultaneously stream to all major streaming platforms.
- MultiCam Setup
Hardware encoders allow multiple camera setups.
In other words, a hardware encoder can simultaneously encode and compress the content being captured from one or more cameras.
To summarize, a hardware encoder provides all the power for a complete and professional live streaming setup.
So, instead of using software encoders and spending buckets of money on computer upgrades, it’s better to go for a hardware encoder.
Hardware Encoders: Pros & Cons
Even though hardware encoders are incredible devices, they have their own pros and cons. The biggest pro is the performance and the biggest con is the high price tag.
Top Hardware Encoders in 2022 You Can Buy Now
If you are looking for a good hardware encoder in 2022, we’ve got 4 top-notch encoders for you right here. Whether you want a budget encoder or the best of the best, we found something in every variety.
1. Black Magic Design Web Presenter
Best Budget Streaming Encoder Hardware
- 12G-SDI input format
- Ethernet and Mobile Data connection support
- Allow 4K inputs at 60 fps
- 1080p 60 fps output formats
- Stream to Facebook, Youtube, Wowza, and more
- 70 Mbps streaming speeds
- USB-C port
- Web Presenter utility software
- Display shows everything
- Doesn’t support multi-streams
- No record feature
2. Teradek VidiU X
Top HDMI Encoder At A Discount
- 1080p input and output formats
- Supports RTSP, RTMP, and RTMPS
- Streams to Facebook, Vimeo, Twitch, and more
- Multi-stream with Sharelink
- Ethernet, Mobile Data, and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity
- Stream and record
- HDMI input
- VidiU App support
- Regular firmware updates
- No 4K streaming
Price: Around $600 on Amazon
3. LiveU Solo
Best Portable Encoder For Professional Streamers
- Battery backup
- Wireless streaming
- H0264 encoder with 1080p resolution
- Simultaneous 4 links bonding
- Simple to use
- LCD panel
- 3 hours of battery backup
- HDMI port for versatile connectivity
4. DDMALL Mini HDMI Encoder
Best Portable Hardware Encoder For Vloggers
- H.264 HDMI encoder
- Low power consumption
- VLC media compatibility
- 3.5mm ear jack for audio in/out
- Connects to the camera, computer, drone, tablet
- Support every major streaming protocol
- Multicasting abilities
- Not the fastest encoder
Price: Around $200 On Amazon
Streaming hardware encoder is an important piece of equipment that is now being used by the biggest of TV broadcasters and top streamers on platforms like Twitch, Periscope, DaCast, YouTube, and others. If you are an aspiring live streamer, it’s time to upgrade the setup and step up your streaming game.
Hopefully, we’ve cleared up at least some of your doubts and queries about streaming hardware encoders. It’s a giant rabbit hole, but we tried our best to summarize all necessary information.
If you still have any queries about hardware encoders, you are always welcome to leave comments.
Q. What is the best encoder for streaming?
The answer to this question depends on what kind of streaming you are talking about. Teradek’s VidiU X and VidiU Go are great for home streamers who want broadcast quality.
For YouTubers and on-the-go streamers, something like LiveU Solo is a great option.
Then there is NewTek’s TriCaster range of encoders that takes care of every single thing for worldwide broadcasters.
Q. What is hardware encoder OBS?
If you have an NVIDIA graphics card and you are using an OBS software encoder, you can enable hardware encoding and improve its performance. Here’s how it’s done:
– Click on Settings from the OBS home screen.
– Navigate and click on the Output tab.
– Click on the Encoder drop-down menu and select NVENC H.264
Now the OBS will use your NVIDIA graphics card for encoding and reducing CPU usage.
Q. What is encoder hardware used for?
A hardware encoder is an independent device that connects to a computer and assists in compressing and converting a live stream into a format that works all over the internet on all sorts of devices.
The advantage of using encoder hardware is that it reduces the strain on your CPU. thanks to its own GPU chip.
Q. Do I need a hardware encoder to live stream?
Yes and no. For seamless streaming, it’s best to use a hardware encoder. However, you can stream directly from your mobile phone on apps like Facebook and Instagram.
YouTube also joined the list of platforms that allow direct live streaming from any device without any software or hardware encoder.
Q. Is software or hardware encoder better?
There is a clear difference between the two deciding which one is better depends on the use.
A software encoder is better if you don’t want to spend any money and just get a stream going, no matter the quality.
A hardware encoder is the better choice when you want to put on a high-quality stream for a bigger audience.
Hybrid encoding setups combining powers of both software and hardware encoders are the new trend though.